Life

Decline of the British bee: Just how much are Manchester’s industrious honey-makers in danger?

By James Scott

With reports abuzz of the decline of the British bee this year, Mancunian Matters asks just how much our furry friends really are in danger.

One of the most recognisable symbols of Manchester is the industrious and hard-working bee, but how long will they be buzzing around for?

This year has seen various reports in British papers – the Guardian, the Independent and the Telegraph – of the decline of the British bee.

The number of bees in Britain has fallen drastically in the past fifty years, with three species becoming extinct and several under serious threat.

This is largely due to the loss of flowery meadows that allow bees to forage, parasites destroying hives and the increasing usage of insecticides. 

Despite these worrying trends and reports, John Charlton, microscopist for the Manchester District Beekeepers Association, said he is not worried.

“We’ve had a very poor summer season, but the bees are surviving and I haven’t noticed a decline here,” he said.

However, he added: “In terms of bumblebees there could be cause for concern as there is a lack of foraging in rural areas, and they can struggle to find areas to nest.

Mr. Charlton believes a lot of people don’t understand bees and are intolerant of them, reflected by the increasing use of pesticides and insecticides.

Recent studies show bees exposed to pesticides are almost twice as likely to die, while many bees become ‘lost’ and are less efficient at gathering food.

Bees are essential to our ecology to pollinate flowers and produce food, so a decline would have seriously adverse effects on our agriculture.

The BBC estimated in January this year that the commercial value of bees’ pollination in the UK is around £200million.

And the government is already spending billions of pounds to counteract any possible decline in the bee population.

Andrew Mockridge has kept bees for two years in South Manchester and insists that it’s certainly true that British bees are in decline.

“At the moment there is the chronic problem of the parasitic mite called varroa that essentially lives in the colonies of bees,” he said.

“This mite weakens the bees with viruses and feeds off them when they are hibernating, unfortunately there’s no way of eradicating this problem at the moment.”

The varroa mite injects a disease called deformed wing virus into the bee’s blood stream, severely weakening its cells.

There is an urgent need for a developed treatment to tackle these menaces, which are negatively impacting on the economy of the beekeeping industry.

Mr. Mockridge explained: “I treat my bees twice a year and feed them sugar syrup, but unless you breed the bees to combat the virus inflicted by the mite, you can’t build up their strength to acceptable levels.”

Due to the variable weather we have experienced this year, bees have often been given the wrong weather conditions at the wrong times, causing abnormal patterns of behaviour.

“If the weather is wet, the flowers don’t produce nectar for the bees to pollinate and the bees don’t leave their hives,” said Mr Mockridge.

Last month the BBC estimated that the total honey crop for England and Wales was down by 50%, with bee-farmers recording huge losses.

Though with bees pollinating a third of the food we eat in the UK, getting our fix of honey could be the least of our problems should the decline in bees continue.

For more information on bees in Manchester visit www.mdbka.com (Manchester District Beekeepers Association).

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